As Auburn University notes, online classes are especially appealing to adult learners, because of their flexibility and accessibility. They note, "No more giving up a career; no more driving hours each week to the nearest campus. All you need is contemporary communications equipment and the motivation to succeed in your courses" (Auburn University, 2002). Students who need to take occasional classes for certification or license renewal also have much more accessibility to relevant classes. If they are parents, this allows them the flexibility to work, attend school, and still take care of their family responsibilities. Another writer notes, "This means that parents can attend to their children, then sit down to class; working students can attend classes no matter what their work schedule might be, folks that travel for business or pleasure can attend class from anywhere in the world that has internet access" (Coleman, 2005). As noted, online classes offer increased accessibility for handicapped students as well. Thus, accessibility is clearly the most important benefit of online education. Online classes offer so many plusses; it is difficult to see how they could possibly come under criticism.
Of course, there are contentions that online classes offer drawbacks for some students. One of these alleged drawbacks is the lack of motivating forces for some students. Some opponents say students need the structure of an organized classroom, with specific class times and attendance. They may not be motivated to complete an online course because they do not motivate themselves to work on the course in a sensible amount of time. This may be true for a small minority of students, but this drawback is easily overcome. Many online classes no longer completely depend on the motivation of the student to complete the course. These courses are organized over a specific period of time, and the student must submit coursework throughout the class or risk being dropped from the class, just like traditional on-campus classes. Students who lack the motivation to complete a course entirely on their own can enroll in one of these time-specific courses, which encourage them to compete the work in a timely manner. Thus, motivation can be eliminated as a drawback if the student chooses the correct course. Another aspect of this alleged drawback concerns the interactivity of the course. Since most courses include many interactive elements, they keep even unmotivated students interested and alert, which leads to more motivation to complete the course. Courses also often contain requirements, such as posting a specific number of messages in the course message boards each week, to indicate the student is online and participating in the course. By giving structure such as this, the student has more requirements to complete the course, which leads to more interactivity and interest between students, the instructor, and the course materials. It is interesting to note that despite perceived drawbacks, more students are enrolling in online classes than ever before. Another writer notes, "In spite of the drawbacks, however, many new and returning students are opting to study via distance learning and are finding it to be a very rewarding experience" (Norman, 2005). Thus, the positive aspects of online classes far outweigh the perceived drawbacks for students.
Another interesting drawback some critics mention is difficulty with e-mails between course instructors and students. This might seem surprising, considering how common e-mail messages have become in today's world. Yet, one journalist notes, "Some distance-education professors say they are surprised at how often students misinterpret messages online" (Young, 2002). While some professors might not have mastered the art of the e-mail message, most online students comment they feel they have much more communication with their instructors, and have not had problems with the tone or content of e-mails in their classes. In fact, most students indicate the online and e-mail environments are more conducive to communication, rather than less conducive. Writer Coleman continues, "Students can also think longer about what they want to say and add their comments when ready. In a traditional classroom, the conversation could have gone way past the point where the student wants to comment" (Coleman, 2005). This drawback was cited in 2002, and even five years has made a difference in the availability of e-mail, and the sophistication of the users. In addition, it seems most people who use e-mail today understand the "netiquette" of e-mail communication, including abbreviations, NO SHOUTING, and emoticons, and recognize that often e-mails communicate in a more casual and abbreviated manner. Author Young cites a student who was offended by an instructor's "curt" e-mails. He writes the instructor was surprised when confronted with the student's concerns. The instructor said, "To me, what she was seeing and projecting, and how she was responding to my tone, was not what I meant at all'" (Young, 2002). Thus, the problem may have been more with perception, and less with actual content and meaning. This drawback seems isolated and a bit nit-picky, considering the success of so many online classes and students. The same student who had problems online might have the same perception issues in the classroom. Clearly, online classes are a very personal form of learning, and most students have no trouble with their communication or their instructors. As with anything, there will always be those who criticize, or search for something negative in every situation. If they look hard enough, they are certain to find something. Frankly, testy e-mails seem like a very minor drawback, if they exist at all. In addition, e-mail may have been a larger issue in the past, but today, online classes, message boards, and a better understanding of the e-mail environment ensure that online classes offer far better communication between students and instructors.
In conclusion, online education, once a miniscule element of distance education, has come into its own. In fact, online classes and degrees may be the fastest growing element of education today. Online classes offer a wide variety of benefits, from convenience to communication, flexibility, and increased educational opportunities. Online education might not fit every student's needs, but the many benefits of online education far outweigh any drawbacks some students might perceive. In fact, many students would not choose to attend college any other way than online. Online classes have another important benefit that cannot be ignored. They make learning fun again, and for many students, that may be the key element to keep them learning.
Auburn University. (2002). Benefits of online education. Retrieved from the Auburn University Web site: http://www.auburn.edu/distance_learning/auonline/auol_about_benefits.php2 March 2007.
Coleman, S. (2005). Benefits of online learning:15 reasons to learn online. Retrieved from the Worldwidelearn.com Web site: http://www.worldwidelearn.com/education-articles/benefits-of-online-learning.htm2 March 2007.
Editors. (2006). The benefits of online education. Retrieved from the Online-college-degree-resourses.com Web site: http://www.online-college-degree-resources.com/benefits-online-education.html2 March 2007.
Jansen, T. (2007). Do online classes benefit students with disabilities? Retrieved from the Online-education.net Web site: http://online-education.net/resources/students-with-disabilities.html2 March 2007.
Norman, M. (2005). The pros and cons of online education. Retrieved from the ezinearticles.com Web site: http://ezinearticles.com/?the-Pros-and-Cons-of-Online-Education&id=542812 March 2007.
Young, J. (2002). Online education's drawbacks include misunderstood e-mail messages, panelists say. Retrieved from the Chronicle of Higher Education Web site: http://chronicle.com/free/2002/06/2002061101u.htm2 March 2007.